A massive restoration effort has made Wolf Branch Creek Nature Preserve a showcase of coastal restoration.
Prior to its acquisition by Hillsborough County in 1993, the land was overrun by invasive Brazilian peppers and Australian pines.
The brackish estuarine waters vital to harboring juvenile fish suffered from years of agriculture use.
Native wildlife now flourishes within the preserve’s protected 1,400 acres of land.
Resources for exploring the area
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Location: Apollo Beach
Length: 2.4 mile loop
Trailhead: 27.742669, -82.434325
Address: 481 Villemaire Rd, Apollo Beach, 33572
Land manager: Hillsborough County
Open sunrise-sunset. Leashed dogs allowed.
From Interstate 75 and E College Ave, head west for 4.9 miles, turning right at S Tamiami Tr. Turn left onto 15th St in 1.3 miles, then make an immediate right onto 1st St NW. Continue straight onto Villemaire Rd in 0.3 mile, and the parking area will be on the left in a half mile.
From the trailhead, head north on a wide, grassy road bordered by golden grasses, wax myrtles, willows, and clusters of palmettos.
Pines and cabbage palms dot the otherwise shrubby landscape. Continue northward through a trail intersection, turning left in half a mile.
A depression marsh to the right may hold water depending on the time of year. It is one of several seasonal and tidal ponds in the preserve.
Passing two more ponds, the trail nears Tampa Bay as osprey chirp and soar overhead.
A platform affixed to a telephone pole is appropriately located next to the water, providing a nesting spot for these regal raptors.
Mangrove trees begin to line the right side of the path as the trail approaches a salty cove.
Water isn’t necessarily visible, but the proximity of the bay is evidenced by dozens of fiddler crabs skittering underfoot.
Depending on the tides and the time of year, the next tenth of a mile has potential to be soggy.
The scent of salt permeates the air as the trail cuts through a curious mix of marine and freshwater vegetation.
Follow the pathway as it sweeps to the south, then eastward to complete the first loop.
Batches of wildflowers bloom alongside the pathway, including showy purple flowers of winged loosestrife.
At 1.5 miles, the blue-blazed western loop ends. Continue forward to begin the red-blazed eastern loop.
The red trail has slightly taller flora, with a few Spanish moss-draped oak trees rising above the shrubs.
The path remains grassy and wide as it weaves northward through patches of grass and persimmon trees before turning southward and connecting with the main trail again in 0.7 mile.
At this intersection, turn left, returning to the trailhead in 0.2 mile.
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Directly across Tampa Bay from St. Petersburg, two loop trails in Cockroach Bay Nature Preserve navigate restored wetlands and a lookout point known as Mount Cockroach.
Protecting uplands immediately east of Tampa Bay, Golden Aster Scrub Nature Preserve immerses hikers within oak scrub habitat along a sandy loop trail.
Located on the banks of the Little Manatee River, Camp Bayou Nature Preserve provides an easygoing set of trails through a variety of natural Florida habitats.